In order to understand the history of fruited Lambics, one must first understand the long, rich history of Lambic. What we know as Lambic likely evolved slowly from other spontaneously fermented beverages dating back to the ancient inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent. The Romans introduced the use of wooden casks around A.D. 21. Hops were widely accepted as the preferred spice in the 10th century. And a beer that we would likely recognize as Lambic was being lovingly produced in Belgium as early as the 12th century. In order to do so, the brewer, who was often also a farmer, built a mash consisting of 60% malted barley and 40% wheat. A minimum volume of aged hops was added to the boil solely for their preservative properties. Next the wort was transferred to a coolship, a long, wide and shallow vessel, designed, as the name implies, to cool the wort. Brewers would often start early in the morning, in order to have all of the wort in the coolship by nightfall, and therefore take advantage of the cooler evening temperatures. In through the open windows, along with the chilly Belgian breeze, came magic. Soon, the wort began to bubble and foam, the result (we now know) of a mixed culture fermentation beginning. Finally, the slowly fermenting elixir was moved to oak barrels for maturation. The barrel staves harbor lactic acid producing bacteria, which also helps with fermentation and acidifies the beer.
Adding fruit to traditionally produced Lambic is a significantly more recent development in brewing history, and likely began as a cottage industry. In fact, the first explicit mention we find of a cherry addition lies in the 1878 manuscript of tenant farmer Josse De Pauw from Schepdaal, Belgium. He writes: “Take good clear lambic, two years old, at least good tasting, twenty kilograms of good ripe cherries per one hundred litres of lambic. Press the cherries and add the stones (pits). Leave to rest, draw off until December and leave to rest for twenty to thirty days, then bottle, stopper, and lay down.” The fact that this tradition blossomed around the village of Schaarbeek outside Brussels is no accident as the cherries of the same name were once abundant in the area. And while cherries were likely the first fruit to be combined with Lambic, they were certainly not the last. The resultant beers have traditionally been named simply for the fruit included.
Druif Rouge is our latest foray into the world of wine grapes. Trisaetum Winery was founded in 2003 by Andrea and James Frey. In the years since, they’ve developed an international reputation for their world-class Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sparkling offerings. We were introduced through mutual friends in the Willamette Valley, and the Trisaetum family kindly opened their doors to us. While thieving samples of single varietal, sight-specific Pinot in their breathtaking barrel cave, a collaborative seed was planted. And when pFriem had the chance to host, inevitable inspiration began to take on shape.
We began by brewing a traditional Lambic-inspired base beer into neutral French Oak. This we allowed to mature for a combination of one and two years. Then, when the Domaine 777 (Pinot Noir) reached its peak on Trisaetum’s Ribbon Ridge Estate, we loaded a stainless-steel vessel onto a flatbed truck and drove through the Gorge and deep into Willamette Valley Wine country. We found our friends harvesting, sorting, and punching in good cheer. Our grapes were still on the vine when we arrived. We harvested, sorted and lightly pressed our fruit directly into our own vessel, secured it to the truck once more, and celebrated with Sparkling wine and fried chicken. With rosy cheeks and wide smiles, we returned to the brewery and racked our beer from barrels onto fruit. After an exciting fermentation and nine months of maturation, we offer Druif Rouge to you. Cheers!